Everything is ready. Signs are made and colored by the boys, banner made by Amanda, Back to Babylon basket is made, his room is ready, WE are ready!! Tuesday, September 8th finally arrived! Joel's grandpa McKinney's funeral was that morning in Sacramento. Dad got on a plane right after it was over and flew in to Salt Lake just in time to get dinner and drive to the mission home! We are all very excited!! It was a bright sunny day! There was a sign on the door of a classroom for us to wait in. We could hear the missionaries in a room next door singing. The last meeting for all those going home the next day. They would all stay at the mission president's house until their flights out the next morning. Except for Joel. He got to go out to the parking lot and drive home with us!
We waited anxiously for their meeting to end. Missionaries started down the hall, they would all peek in to see Elder McKinney's family. FINALLY, Joel walked into the room! Momma gets the first hug!!! It was awesome!! Words cannot describe it! I did not want to let him go...and I swear he is taller than when he left! Dad was next, followed by the boys. Amanda got her hug too, but she had the camera in her hand! She took one in the parking lot right before we drove out. President Chambers and his wife and son came in to meet us. That was really special and we enjoyed it. They had wonderful things to say about Joel. The one that stuck out to me was from Sister Chambers. She said when she thinks of Elder McKinney she thinks, "Still waters run deep." She said he is often quoted by the other missionaries and what a wonderful missionary he is. Several of the missionaries made comments to us, especially Elder Hauta. He loved serving with Joel and told us how much he learned from him and enjoyed being his companion. Joel said his goodbyes and we went to get all his stuff which was stacked in the nursery room. We got it all loaded in the van and headed home! It didn't really feel real to us! And being as Joel had never seen the house we live in now, it probably was a little unreal to him as well.
We had oreo ice cream cake for him at home. Then later, President Ivins and Bishop Angus came over to the house to release him. President asked Joel several questions, had him share a few stories, and then had him bear his testimony. He also asked each of us (Dad, Mom and Amanda) to share what blessings we felt we received while he was serving. It was very special. Then he released Joel and had him remove his tag. An emotional time for all of us. He admonished Joel to keep his tag with his scriptures to remind him of the work and of his time as a missionary sharing the gospel. To remember all the spiritual experiences and being close to the Savior.
We can't believe it is all over just like that. In hindsight, those two years went really fast. We are so grateful that Joel served a mission and we look forward to hearing his stories and seeing what all will happen in his life from this point on. We love you Joel!! Welcome home!!